40 death threats made against artist
CONTROVERSIAL Swedish cartoonist Lars Vilks has been under police protection for the past two-and-a-half years and around 40 death threats have been made against him.
Mr Vilks had to go into hiding days after his cartoon depicting the prophet Mohammad's head on a dog's body was published in a newspaper on August 18, 2007.
The publication led to an outcry in the Muslim world where the image wasregarded as blasphemous.
The alleged head of al-Qa'ida in Iraq, Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, offered a reward of €74,000 for his murder. The amount was to be increased by half if Mr Vilks's throat was cut and he was "slaughtered like a lamb", al-Baghdadi said.
He also threatened to attack major Swedish companies, such as Ericsson, Volvo and Ikea, if the country did not apologise over the cartoon,
A further €37,000 was offered for the murder of Ulf Johansson, editor-in-chief of the newspaper 'Nerikes Allehanda'.
The cartoon was published a year and a half after a series of depictions of Mohammad in Denmark's 'Jyllands-Posten' sparked protests from Muslims around the world and dozens of people were killed in riots.
Al-Qa'ida leader Osama bin Laden issued a warning to European governments in March 2008 of a day of "reckoning" for publishing the cartoons and said the insulting drawings were a greater crime than Western forces targeting Muslim villages and killing women and children.
Mr Vilks had initially submitted his drawings to an art exhibition but they were withdrawn by the organisers because of security concerns and fear of violence from Islamic extremists.
A second rejection started an intense debate in the Swedish media about self-censorship and freedom of expression and 'Nerikes Allehanda' decided to publish one of the cartoons alongside an editorial on freedom of expression.
Last January, police stepped up security on Mr Vilks after he received threats from Somalia -- three days after the Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard was targeted by an attacker with an axe at his home in Denmark.
Mr Vilks said the man who had threatened him had a Swedish accent and had asked him if he knew what had happened to Westergaard, whose cartoon depicted Mohammad with a bomb in his turban.